Healthy Aging: Don't Leave Your Mind Behind

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Use it or lose it.

No doubt you’ve heard this advice often enough about your body and it’s physical abilities. And if, like me, you didn’t pay much attention to it when you were younger, I can tell you that you’ll wish you had by the time the next birthday looming on your calendar is the big 6-0. Trying to get your fitness back is a lot harder than hanging on to as much of it as you can all along.

But what’s even scarier than this physical decline are the mental changes that come with aging–starting with those wacky little episodes we like to refer to jokingly as “senior moments.” Like yesterday, when the combination to my bike lock somehow managed to escape from my brain for a good 30 minutes, leaving me stuck in the middle of nowhere with my bike chained to a tree and wondering whether I should start walking the 9 miles back home, or wait to see if the combination found it’s way back into my brain.

It struck me that forgetting this combination that I had used almost every day for over a year was a little less amusing than the usual problems of not remembering where I put my glasses, or forgetting why I had gotten up to go into a particular room. So, when I got home, I did a little internet research on mental decline, and guess what advice I found...

That’s right: Use it or lose it.

It turns out that there’s been quite a bit of research lately indicating that brain cells and mental functions respond to mental exercise the same way that muscle cells respond to physical exercise: they get stronger and more capable.

And the good news is that the kind of exercise your brain needs can actually be quite a bit of fun. According to the authors of the article linked above, virtually any kind of new learning can stimulate your brain to build its capabilities (even reading articles in SparkPeople’s Healthy Lifestyle Resource Centers). So can doing word or math puzzles, playing chess or checkers, taking up new hobbies and crafts that involve manual dexterity, learning to play a musical instrument (or a new song), practicing a new dance step–literally, almost anything you haven’t already done a million times before.

So, no more TV reruns for me. I’ve decided to do some learning about all the flora and fauna that inhabit my favorite exercise destinations (the coastal redwood forest and sand dunes), and see if I can identify them when I come across them on my daily excursions.

What sort of new interests or hobbies appeal to you?

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I am too terrified of losing my senses. My mother had it and I had to finish her sentences for her, at times, she got so frustrated she would cry. Poor dear, shortly later she passed away to a better place. I try to work on word puzzles, sudoku and taking walks, but sometimes when I cant think of a word, I start to get a little worried mysel. Report
I'm like all of you - very scared of this happening to me. Both of my grandmothers died with dementia, my father's mirror twin died last summer with Alzheimer's. I do genealogy and have found a trend in both family lines for "senile dementia" and asthma.

My uncle & dad were in a medical study as my father does not have dementia (his twin was diagnosed at age 64 & lived 9 years more). Part of the study has both of them donating their brains for further study. I have yet to learn what was found from my uncle's brain.

I keep active with the genealogy & other studies to keep my brain moving. My husband & I are both firm believers in "use it or lose it". His 89 year old mother is now suffering from dementia, still living at home by herself, but with caretakers coming in daily to help out. Her short term memory loss is the problem, but her long term memory is still very active. She reads a lot and we have noticed that if it is politics - she remembers it - but not the other "fluff" as she calls it. Report
Anything that keeps me one step ahead of my three sons is worth learning! With three completely different personalities that is a lot of learning and activity! Report
I agree with those who continue to teach others as well as to do puzzles that challenge your vocabulary or logic. Report
I took care of my grandmother with dementia and she would just sit in a chair like a vegetable all day staring at the tv, but not even taking any of it in. Her and I were so close up until then when she didn't even know me any more. The only thing that she kept saying to me was "you're so pretty". It was really hard to see her like that and when she passed I thought that she was going to be much happier in heaven. I kept wondering what could have been done, if anything, to prevent such a thing from happening to her. Report
My father is in the late stages of dementia; so I've been reading up on the subject. Doing the things recommended to help keep a functing brain won't gruarantee against memory loss, but it sure helps stack the odds in your favor. Report
I agree with this article 100% Keep active, no matter what, or you'll wake up one day and find you lost it! Report
I went back to school at 54. It was frightening to find myself in college with kids as young as seventeen. The first week was overwhelming and I didn't think I could do it. My mind has never been so stimulated. I loved it! Graduated last summer (with both my kids) two year diploma in Social Services. I intend to keep taking courses to keep my mind working :) Report
Like some of you menopause is messing with my head. I find myself thinking of the hereafter-go into a room for something and try to remember what I'm here after! Honestly, Alzheimers and dementia are hereditary in my maternal grandmothers side. Of 22 children 15 have died from dementia and both their parents died from it. I saw my grandmother's decline and it's scary. I am determined to stay active, alert and hold on to my mental facilities as long as I can! Report
It's reassuring to I'm not the only non-senior who experiences those senior moments!
During the last year or so I have decided to re-wire my brain, as ambitious as this may sound.
I started solving Sudoku and Kakuro puzzles, and I'm gradually getting better at it!
I'm also learning more about brain functioning, mental health and disease, autism, and neurological conditions like migraines, and finding ways to incorporate my new knowledge into my life.
My plans for the next five years (42-47) include learning one new language (possibly Italian) and learning how to play an instrument (possibly the flute). I have it all written down, action steps and all! Report
There is a history of Alzheimer's disease in my family on both sides and that's a little scary. I do have a good memory but I worry when I have the occasional "senior moment". Although, I do believe those moments also happen when I am stressed, so I try not to freak out about it too much. Report
I don't get the rules on Sudoku(so it frustrates me) but I read alot and do other types of word puzzles (book and online types) and I get those forget moments as well and I'm only 46,(I'm shocked I wrote that out for all to see :)) they scare me but not as bad as when I 1st noticed them, so I believe there getting better!... Report
i love learning new things. i play various video games, do crossword puzzles, word search games, read something every day whether it's a book, magazine article about something that interests me or reading articles on spark. i also love doing things i've never done before or haven't done in a while. lately i've been getting back into yoga, cross stitch and now i'm getting my stepchildren interested in crafts. keeps my mind sharp becuz i have to pay attention to what i'm doing if i've never done something or if i'm making a new recipe or craft object i've never done before. Report
Great article! Report
I play brain games while I'm driving (same route 4 days/week); sudoku HARD b/c I'm not mentally organized even when I'm awake, teaching helps (tho I can't remember most students' names). I tease my memory by looking at a sequence of things then trying 5, 10, 20? minutes later to recall it.

When you think that, back in the Renaissance, kids as young as 11 were expected to recall a 2-hour sermon, word-for-word after one hearing, you KNOW we've lost something thanks to books, tv, computers.... Report
Amen to that! Report
I have many senior moments everyday. I also enjoy sudoko and other games. I'd hate to see how bad I'd be without doing them. Report
It is good to hear others comment about their "Senior moments". My mom had alzheimers and she didn't begin to lose her "mind" until she was in her middle 70's. Mom was very physically fit and walked 5 miles every day even up to the time we were forced into putting her in an alz unit. She begin to walk at night with the "sundowners syndrome"...she also kept her mind busy with crossword puzzles and word searches...but the inevitable eventually happened. It is horrible to watch someone who was so full of life to lose the "life spark" in their life and to look in their eyes as she progressively got worse and not see anyone at home there. It does make it hard when I have the "brain stalls" myself now as I always wonder in the back of mind if I am getting alz. I now have friends dealing with parents in the same situation as mine was and I just help to get them through the days and to enjoy their parent as they are at each stage. I find myself wanting to be more fit and healthy and also to work my brain more. So I too work crosswords and other mind games. Report
It is true you have to exercise your mind as well as body. I do logic problems, video games, the ones with puzzles in them, jigsaw puzzles, suduko, etc also help my grandchildren with school work and science projects. Get daily emails from Hubble and space. com.
Some of the medicines, i was taking, affected short term memory and long term memory. My mind still goes blank at times but not even 10% like it used to.
As far as remembering where I parked, that I can do. I just have to remember which car I drove. I have access to 4 to 6 vehicles but not all at the same time. I have driven as many as 4 different ones in a day according to what was available and what was needed. Some are trucks, some are the same color but different makes. This can be fun, the third time you've gone to Walmart with a different vehicle in an afternoon. First I remember where I parked at that run then I stand there and try to remember the vehicle. When people kid me "hey you forgot where you parked?" they are shocked when I say no just which vehicle I'm driving right now. Report
i am 63 barrel race my horse, teach jr. high, workout everymorning and i still have senior moments that i laugh and tell people my "moments" are stretching to "days"--it isn't easy --the road to living to l00 but i am going to keep "traveling" Report
The fact is that everyone forgets things at one time or another. Just don't get stressed about it as it makes it worse. Calm yourself down by saying a prayer or something. Stress is a major factor in memory health, I believe as well as getting enough sleep. Recently I read that sleep is a component to learning. When you are studying be sure to get a good night sleep to let the info sink in. I took care of my Dad who had Altzheimers and we never told him he had it. It took the stress facor out of the equation. He did very well and actually died of something else. He was a joy to all of our family. I have to admit, It was very trying at times. Especially when he would rearrange things in my house so I couldn't find anything. I prayed a lot. We all got through it. I didn't want strangers caring for him. I am so glad I made that choice. Report
Thanks for sharing. Report
Yep, a Senior Moment, I couldn'teven remember if I had clicked to earn my 3 points for this article and found out I had, I really thought I hadn't, oh well, I need to be more aware. At my age of 75, I worry about the "Senior Moments" catching up with me, but I took up quilting a few years ago and work on a project every day. Now I am reading and learning more with the Sparks articles and I do love Suduko. But my major anti "Brain Freeze" is reading the bible, it keeps my faith alive. So "Senior Moments or Brain Freezes" or not, I love my life. Report
I've been having these "senior moments" for years, forgetting what I was about to do, where the car is parked, what I was just about to say, etc. I've been reading, doing puzzles, etc. to keep the mind busy. Don't know if it's helped or not, but it's fun! Report
Wonderful article.. I take care of my two aging parents. Dad is 81 and has had many strokes and Mom is 80 with her own health problems. But they are both sharp as a tack. Dad gets up everyday and though he is on an electric wheelchair for most of the day, he does get off and try to walk around the house and outside close to his chair, he does small jobs like staining pieces of furniture or trying to build things, the thing is that he keeps busy. Momma on the other hand does things like lots of reading and doing crossword puzzles. They still maintain their own checkbook with few errors and like I said, very sharp people. I hope to be like them, and I see that keeping mind and body busy is important. Anna Report
I also feel a healthy body does yield a healthy mind, but Alzheimers does not care if you are thin or not. I forget all the time about stuff- it usually has to do with stress. I have had some real problems with my teenage son. Some people need to get out and see the world. My best friend who is nearly sixty- made a judgement of my son's girlfriend. I told her that she is part native american. My friend immediately sterotyped she might have hard life and a drinking problem, that is not a sign of a healthy mind either. The older she gets things like this come out which I never heard before. Report
When menopause hit I started forgetting things, my doctor suggested word puzzles, bowling, anything that required concentration. I may not always remember but just practicing concentration makes it alot easier to remember things these days! Report
Thanks for sharing. At my age I found that at times I do have a senior moment at works. I laugh about it because I use to laugh with my mother about it and tell her that you don't have to be very old to have the senior mements. Report
My "senior's moments" are mostly forgetting the names of friends and neighbors. Very embarrassing when I have to introduce them to someone new!

My strategy is taking courses, reading (a lot!) and doing new things. I've started yoga and Pilates classes for my body. A few years ago I took up ceramics and set up my own studio, then I moved on to glass. I'm amazed at what I can do and what I still want to do. I'm 62 and not planning to slow down in the near future! My DH and I play Scrabble. Report
Jack LaLanne is 93 and as sharp as you can find, but he works out every single day of his life doing swimming and weight training. A healthy body gives a healthy mind! Report
I've had success playing scrabble online. I used to be pretty bad but maybe its the combination of soduko, crossword puzzles, reading a book a month (I joined a bookclub at the local library) and challenging myself more at work that are helping me. Report
I find, that at age almost 53, my vocabulary is playing games with me. I am still teaching and attending seminars, but words will escape me from 10 seconds to forever. I am a very verbal person and really hate this. I wonder if this is something specific or a hint that I need to listen more and talk less, lol. With 8 kids at home for the most part, I really don't get to shut down much. I'll have to give this more thought and a bit of research too. Report
Part of my exercise routine is a crossword puzzle, sudoku, and a jigsaw puzzle. However I still have to have a notepad with me because I can forget something in an instant. What drives me really crazy is when I forget what I'm talking about.
I've been encouraging my parents to take up other activities to keep their mind engaged. My mum does sudoku, plays online puzzles & takes up line dancing, whilst my dad does free lance map drawing as well as plays mahjong over the weekends. I find these activites help keep them busy and socially active even though they have retired from work a couple of years back. Report
I have been told to do puzzles or some thing to keep things going. I will be 60 next year and yes, I am afraid of aging, but, I am keeping busy with my jewelry and puzzles and I love solitaire and Mah jong. It seems to be doing its job. I do have some of those senior moments, but not as many. Its not so bad getting there. Report
Things get so busy in our lives sometimes that we don't take time to learn anything new. I found this article interesting. I plan on reading a new book. Report
I'm only 38, and I've had brain cramps for 10 years. Maybe even my whole life, if you're talking about forgetting what you're saying, but I've come to think that I have ADD or ADHD, as I tend to have a million thoughts going thru my head at all times and, when talking, I often lose track of which thought-string I'm on. Same thing with tasks. But I forget other stuff all the time too, like the things others have posted, pins to accounts and stuff that I've had for years and years, and all sorts of crazy stuff. I bought a Nintendo DS so that I could do Brain Age - actually, the best part about it is that it has Suduko puzzles, which I like to do, but normally don't, so I've been having fun with it. I'll check out the fitbrains site too. Hopefully it helps! Report
There are days on which I have very senior moments but for the most part my brain seems to be holding up well. It seems that being laid off from my job and going back to college (at an age at which I am older than most of the parents of the students I'm in class with) has been a good thing for my brain. This article is a good reminder to keep up the brain exercise after I complete my degree. Report
And how about forgetting what you're saying? I get these "brain hiccups" & feel like a dummy. Luckily, I do a lot of reading, cryptograms, suduko, word games, etc., so HOPE I'm getting prepared! My aunt died of Alzheimers, but my Mom had her wits about her at age 100! Report
I agree, I have a problem with the brain stem, and have to continually reteach myself how to walk normally. It is amazing what we can teach our brains. If I allow my legs todo what they want I am training the brain to do it wrong. But if I follow through with knees up toes up, I can get my body to start following through. I am always challenging myself to learn something new, and not allow myself to veg out. Report
My mom always said you learn something new every day, or at least you should. Its true, so something new or different and you feel better when you accomplish it. As the general population is made up of the babyboomers, there are lots of us "older" folks around. In the 5 months I have been at SP I feel much better, more active and have fewer "senior" moments. It must work thanks for the article. Report
This really hits home to me, one of my biggest fears!

For people who like games and want to improve their memory and more try this site. Report
Thanks for sharing! Report
I have these senior moments from time to time and I'm only 25. I have forgotten things, like combinations to locks, although thankfully not for 30 minutes in the middle of nowhere! Report
My mom tells me "You have to be tough to get old!" I'm finding that out more and more each year. Report
My preferred description for this is "brain freeze" and it's not limited to the going-on-60ies.

I remember reading that contrary to what was common wisdom for a long time the brain does build new neurons, just not too many; I guess that fits in with what you found on the internet.

And to be very immodest: from years of learning and teaching other's I'd say training our minds works pretty exactly like training our bodies: we improve best when doing a moderate amount every day gets you far better results than shortlived bursts of "I'll practise 3 hours each day!" Report
Thanks for sharing this information. It is true that we all joke about 'senior moments', or a ' brain cramp' but if the truth be known, it is a frightening part of aging. While I have no family history of dementia, or Alzheimer's, I do seriously get nervous some times with my memory lapses!
Fortunately, I do have many interests, and I do pursue as many as time allows.
It is so true, that we are not just a body or just a mind, but that we are a whole being, all very delicately balanced.
PS: I have forgotten where I parked too! Report
Well, I have a history of Alzheimers in my family, which is very scary. My Mother is currently battling it, and her brother passed away with it. It is frightening to me when I find myself forgetting things. My husbands Mother has this horrifying disease as well, which I find myself getting real nervous when he forgets something or repeats a story to me. I guess I'm just very touchy now that I realize that we both have the chance of having this.......and scared does not even begin to describe how I feel at the thought of that. Report
OMG! How about a little younger than that (48)!!!! Often I forget where I parked in our huge Walmart parking lot! I can't even remember which doors I went in!! It almost throws me into a panic mode. And it infuriates me that we have one of the three largest Walmarts in the country, yet they haven't marked our aisles at all! What's with that?! I keep saying I should ask them to do it, but I haven't (shame on me ~ maybe now I'll "remember"!). Report
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